Sunday, July 29, 2012


As the weather got terribly hot, I got a little lax about watering every day and I could swear my plants are actually doing better for it. We are finally, finally getting viable roma tomatoes from the garden after weeks of only oodles of green ones and then a week or two of every red tomato being half-gone to blossom end rot by the time they ripened. I collected two baskets full this week and today MB put them through my mom's old food mill and we froze sixteen cups of sauce to use in chili and spaghetti. I've also picked six or seven lovely pink Brandywine tomatoes and there are a lot more on the plant waiting to ripen. The grape tomato plant is booming, and it looks like all of my mystery volunteer plants are cherry-sized. We'll be overrun by cherry tomatoes by the end of the summer!

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The pepper plants are doing quite well, though not yielding as much as the tomatoes. I think that's typical, though. I definitely want to plant more peppers next year but space them out better. I'm never sure when to pick some of the new varieties like the red chilis and Poblanos. There are quite a few peppers on the red chili plant, but they're not red so I haven't felt confident to pick them. The Cajun belles are doing well, too, though they are not big bell-pepper sized peppers like I expected. They're bell pepper shaped, but very small! I need to get MB to report on the various kinds and how they taste, how spicy they are, etc. since I don't eat anything but the sweet bananas and bells chopped up in sauces.

The zucchini plants totally died back and though one small one has re-grown, it hasn't produced any squash yet. The cucumbers are more or less inaccessible now due to their own vine and the snake gourd vines covering their fence frame. If I grow any next year, I'm going to turn the frame 90 degrees so the opening is facing out.

The snake gourds are starting to bug me, truthfully. They are WAY overgrown and have started to encroach on the tomatoes. The plants have a funny smell, too, like a faint but pervasive aroma of pee. I'm not a huge fan. As much as I hate to prune healthy plants, I really think I'm going to go out there this week and cut them back.

The blueberry bushes are still really pitiful and don't appear to have grown at all, but they look healthy other than the sunburned leaves, so maybe they're just slow starters. I think the strawberry plants are finally thriving under the cover of the nearby tomato plants. The last time I saw them, they looked good. That was a week or so ago, though. I hope they're doing well under there.

I also finally caught a photo of one of the really neat dragonflies that have been hanging around the plot all summer. I just missed getting a photo of a little green praying mantis on the banana peppers, too, which is SO cool!

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Thursday, July 12, 2012

How does my garden grow

Very well, apparently, even though the weather was horrendous through the end of June and into the first week of July (all temperatures in Fahrenheit, of course):

Heat wave
(list stolen from the local paper's website)

I took down the half-assed string trellis I made for the blackberries since it was already starting to sag. I also wanted to attempt to redirect the insanely prolific snake gourd plants to grow and climb in the other direction so they wouldn't smother the berry plant. I put a large round tomato cage in there and sort of wove the squash vines through it and it worked somewhat. As you can see, they are doing almost too well:

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In fact, they're growing so wonderfully that (provided they keep going strong into the fall), I'm thinking about lobbying next year to build a teepee or A-frame out of wood and planting snake gourds along the base to create a vine-covered hideout for Nico. I got the idea from this very neat guest post on frequent commenter Ruth's blog (hi, Ruth!).

I also added stakes to the sprawling grape tomato area and wrapped twine around the four stakes to make a cage of sorts. It does seem to have helped a lot with keeping the plant contained:

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All our tomato plants are covered with oodles of green fruit. I suspect they're all going to ripen at once and we'll be up for days processing them all into sauce to freeze.

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I'm pretty sure my poor blueberry bushes got sunburned, but so far they seem to be hanging in there.

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My zucchini plants, however, are not doing well at all. I don't know if they finally gave up in the heat or if the nefarious squash cutworm got to them. I lost my last two years' zucchini plants to cutworm, but I was hoping to avoid that fate this year by planting in raised beds with new dirt. One of the plants seems to be regenerating with new growth so I haven't given up all hope, but they really do look pathetic:

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Sadly, they look worse already in just the two days since I took these photos.

At least the zucchini harvest that might turn out to be my last for the year was a whopper:
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I see lots and lots of grating in my future.

The pepper plants continue to look great but produce little. I really suspect that I impeded productivity by crowding them in the bed. Every time I go out to water now I think about what I like about this year's garden and what I want to do differently next year. Right now, I'm thinking:

>> Add another long thin bed for tomatoes and grow only eight plants, four in each long center bed

>> Spread the peppers across the entire back bed (and maybe add a few more varieties)

>> Find a way to squeeze in another bed near the front by the blueberries for zucchini

>> Skip the snap peas - I'm the only one who ate any, and I didn't eat enough to justify the space they took up in the bed. Then I skipped ONE day of watering and all of my pea plants died, which I thought was a bit overdramatic.

>> Attempt to add onions, per MB's request (any advice on onion-growing is welcome!)

>> Grow multicolored carrots with Nico

Even with the changes I'd make, I think this is our most successful year of gardening yet. It's very encouraging!

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Florida weave update

As promised, I wanted to give you an update on the Florida weave that I'm using for my tomato plants. I used it in the bed with four roma tomato plants and one grape tomato plant. Of all the tomato plants I have this year -- and there are many -- it turns out that the grape is the only one that is perfectly unsuited for a Florida weave. The tag doesn't say that it's indeterminate, but it is definitely a vine and not a bush. It's already getting sprawly and out of hand and it's not even very big yet. I'm hoping to investigate this weekend and see if it would be possible to either stuff it into a traditional cage or add two stakes on a perpendicular axis and wrap twine around the four to make a sort of string cage. Something must be done, for sure.

The weave seems to be working well for the roma plants, though at this point they'd be fine without any support at all since they're so far shaped like low, closely-growing bushes. I'll keep an eye on those and see if the weave ends up being useful later when they're bigger. The weave would be good for my Brandywine, cherry varieties, or any of the unknown volunteers I have, which are shaped in what I think of as the traditional tomato way, bushy but tall and in need of support. Next year I think I'll plant slicers and cherries in the long bed with a weave and put the romas and any grapes we plant in the side beds with cages as needed.
The rest of the garden is growing like crazy with daily watering.
The half-assed string trellis here is already sagging, so I'm hoping to replace it with a traditional wooden ladder trellis. I'll re-use the stakes and twine to help shore up the sprawly grape tomato plant.

The cucumber is climbing the gates quite nicely!

bell, sweet banana, and serrano peppers

zucchini takeover!

seriously freakish zucchini…I gave two away at work


Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Just when I thought we were done

I figured we were finished with major garden additions for the year and then I went to work one day last week and found two tomato plants on my desk. One of my coworkers had brought them as a gift for Nico, so of course I had to find a spot for them. This past Sunday I got another carload of bricks from the free brick lady, dug out the last of the giant tansy plants, and added the supposedly-last raised bed section. Nico and I went to get dirt on Monday and planted the tomatoes yesterday evening. I have learned my lesson…I'm not going to say we're done for the year this time. Just in case.

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giant tansy plants (seriously, don't plant these unless you're okay with them taking over completely)

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The left is a chocolate cherry tomato plant and the right is a Ferris Wheel.

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whole garden, taken before we put in the dirt and plants

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gourds and blackberries…big change in only ten days!

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cucumbers starting to climb

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He kept calling this giant zucchini leaf his "green flower." I guess we need to work on plant anatomy.

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Saturday, June 2, 2012

crowd control

I was google chatting about gardens with evil ducky the other day and mentioned that I needed to get some big tomato cages for my tomatoes. She told me that she's trying the Florida weave method with hers and sent me this helpful tutorial:

I thought it looked like a great option for my long raised bed with the single row of tomatoes down the center, so I set it up today. I used 5-foot T stakes and 1/4" sisal twine from Rural King.

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I bought two 50' balls of twine and used one entire ball. I'll probably only have room for two more lines of twine, so one more 50' ball should do it. I have my brandywine and black cherry plants in the back bed set up with the triangular cages I bought back in 2009. I liked them then, but am finding they haven't held up very well. They're hard to set up and keep hooked together, and I'm not convinced they'll bear weight well when the plants get huge. Time will tell, I guess, just like with the Florida weave. If any of my four volunteer tomato plants survive, I'll have test plots for three kinds of containment options, as my dad gave me seven big traditional round cages he had stored in the garage from my parents' gardening days, many years ago.

While I was working on plant containment, I also assembled a string trellis for my blackberry plant. I'm not sure it's going to hold up well over time, but if not I can replace it with a traditional ladder trellis next year.

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I also set up the cucumber gates, though it was probably a little early to do so:

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Some photos to show off how much the plants have grown - I probably should thin out that overcrowded zucchini bed, but I can't bring myself to dig out a healthy plant.

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I'll keep you posted on how the Florida weave works out. Oh! And we have our first green tomatoes, on the grape tomato plant. Hooray!

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Thursday, May 31, 2012

First harvest!

First, an update on the wood chips. We used about half of the pile ourselves on Friday. Then some friends of ours came and took two van loads away over the weekend for their own yard, ingeniously (I thought) bagging the chips in lawn bags to eliminate a mess in the car. After that I posted an offer on freecycle and craigslist and didn't get any takers, so on Sunday I bought some posterboard and put up a sign in the front yard that said "FREE WOOD CHIPS" with an arrow pointing back to the driveway. I put a second sign on the pile itself that said "FREE WOOD CHIPS (tell all your friends!)" On Monday, our neighbor from down the street showed up on his backhoe tractor and hauled about half the pile away over the course of the morning. As if by radioactive decay, half of what was left had disappeared by the time I got home from work yesterday. Since it was supposed to rain today and there were barely three full wheelbarrow-loads left, I shoveled up the last of it and added it to our mulch pile yesterday evening. I'd definitely say the $1.40 I spent on posterboard was worth every penny to get the garden finished out with wood chips this year! I forgot to mention this in the last post, but we did lay landscaping fabric (which we already had in the shed) down before we put the chips in the garden. We didn't stake it since the weight of the chips will hold it, but I wanted the chips to have help holding back the grass. I didn't put fabric in the bottom of my raised beds before I added dirt, and that was a mistake. I have to pull grass sprouts out of the pepper bed and blueberries almost every day. I may have to move the dirt around and stuff fabric underneath next year before I add plants, so my advice is definitely to line the bottom of your beds if you're building them in a weedy or grassy area.

We got our first harvest already this year, although really it wasn't much to brag about. I picked one pepper from the red chili plant (Though it was not red and I actually picked it by accident…I was trying to move the pepper out from the dirt and it snapped off. It's probably not ripe, but hopefully it'll be edible.) and we had one teeny strawberry on one of our three remaining plants when we got back from vacation. I let Nico eat that and though he didn't seem impressed, he did ask for more once he'd eaten it. Right now the peppers, cucumber, and humongous zucchini plants all have blossoms. Everything has grown very well despite the dry conditions (no rain to speak of since planting until today), and after looking through the first photos I took tonight, I'm surprised at how big everything is already getting. Hopefully soon we'll start getting veggies and fruit!

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During my first year of gardening, my peppers got very tall and leggy and blew over in late summer storms. Since then I've used small tomato cages to keep them upright and steady. These cages are way too small for tomato plants, anyway!

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First tiny strawberry! It was about the size of my thumbnail.

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Nico didn't seem that impressed.

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some empty snail shells I found while digging out the last of the big weeds on the left side of the garden so we could lay down wood chips

Saturday, May 26, 2012


Just before we left on our vacation, I emailed a guy I know through work to ask if he could recommend any local tree services that sell mulch for less than it costs by the bag. Turns out the tree services will give you tree chips by the truckload so they don't have to find a place to dump them. The chips can't be used for mulch the first year because the initial decomposition will bind up all the nitrogen in the soil and starve vegetables or annual plants, but they're fine for landscaping or filling in the spaces between raised beds. So Thursday morning I called one of the companies and was told I should get wood chips within the week. I went to the movies with my sister that afternoon and came home to this in my driveway:

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That's not a trick angle. It's what my husband deemed "a metric fuck ton" of wood chips. He was not wrong. For scale, here is a photo including my sainted father, who came over Friday to help me move the mulch from the mountain to the garden:

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Nico was thrilled to have Grandpa over and followed him around "helping" for a while before the heat chased him indoors.

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Just a reminder, here's what the garden looked like before:

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And here's the after:

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I'm so very pleased with it and feeling hopeful that our unending battle with weeds will be close to winnable this year. We plan to add another raised bed in the big space to the left of the center bed, and maybe remove the ginormous tansy plants on the right side and connect the right side and rear beds into one huge L-shaped bed.

A few more beauty shots:

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Of course, now I'm left with the dilemma of what to do with the remaining half of Mulch Mountain, still sitting in my driveway. A friend is going to take some of it for his yard and I guess after that I'll just have to put up a big "free wood chips" sign and hope for the best. Worth it, I think!